10 ways to know you’re ready to be an airline captain

I completed my line check last night, which went pretty smooth overall. I screwed up the usual stupid stuff you don’t normally screw up, but because the weight of the check is present in your head and really nowhere else, this stuff happens. I am left with the feeling of what now? A reel of questions keeps playing in my head and probably the most replayed is… WTF did I do? Now I have to go out and do this on my own.

Captain
Are you ready to sit in the left seat?

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the idea of how you know you are ready to be captain. I decided to make a list. Here are a couple of things I came up with on my commute home.

  1. You meet the minimum requirements of 121.436.
  2. The instructor stops asking you, “What are you doing?” in the most unfavorable, condescending tone of voice as he does so naturally. Now you hear it, now you don’t.
  3. Using your peripheral vision, you begin to notice the instructor no longer squirrels in his seat when transitioning from cruise flight to flight near the boundaries of the air. The boundaries of the air are defined as the space in between buildings, rocks, bodies of water and mountains. Maintaining speeds necessary for flight near these boundaries can get tricky.
  4. Visual approaches are almost always a known outcome.
  5. Instructions from the instructor stop.
  6. The flight attendants stop making jokes on the PA to the passengers about how obviously we have landed and found the ground, during the welcome-to-your-destination announcement.
  7. Preparation for each flight doesn’t require the time it used to. Each flight is cleverly disguised as a flight lesson with paying passengers who have unknowingly paid for the experience of your lesson. Whether or not they wanted to isn’t their business – or even their option for that matter – and even worse they had no idea it was happening. What’s better left unsaid to the passengers is that you don’t know everything about how this flying machine flies just yet. Sure you have the basics down, push forward and the houses get bigger, pull back and the houses get smaller. I am sure it’s in the small print somewhere when you purchase your ticket.
  8. The instructor pilot really starts to annoy you. This is another tell-tale sign it is time for him to find the nearest exit unless he’s registering on the cuteness meter, and then exceptions can and will be made.
  9. You begin to sense a weird transitional reality that is really difficult to put into words. Best I can say is the aviation gods begin blessing you with problems you can handle and landings that are hard to tell you are no longer in smooth flight. The flight attendants remark on how they didn’t even know we landed.
  10. Lastly, you are left with those words from your final instructor on that very last flight as he reaches out to shake your hand: “Good job, Captain.”

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